We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

How irrational anti-racism, irrational anti-sexism and irrational anti-classism encourage rational racism, rational sexism and rational classism

“Shouting Thomas”, commenting on this Althouse posting, says:

It’s a mistake to vote for any candidate for any office except for a straight white man.

Every other variety is protected from criticism by liberal race, sex and class doctrine. You’re racist, sexist or classist if you dare to criticize them.

So, if you want accountability from public officials, you must vote for straight white men.

For “straight white man” he should, to make his point about classism, have put: “posh straight white man”. Otherwise, good provocative stuff, well worthy of being rescued from a mere comment thread.

I myself am prejudiced against female British Conservative Party parliamentary candidates and members of parliament, if their femaleness is the only thing I know about them. I believe that, ever since Cameron’s “detoxification” efforts, they have been getting an easier ride during the candidate selection process than men.

Similar suspicions are surely widespread in fields beyond politics, wherever positive discrimination is rampant.

What if the Berlin Wall hadn’t come down?

I have always been interested in the What If? question that consists of asking how the world would have been different had the Berlin Wall not fallen and had the USSR just blundered onwards indefinitely, still being the USSR.

That’s a question that has long intrigued me, ever since the Wall in question actually did fall. As you can tell from how I phrase the question, I am damn near certain that the world would have been a far grimmer place than it now is, had that horrible structure not been trashed or turned into souvenir fragments. But, beyond noting with approval the way that various eastern European former Soviet possessions have become much freer and less poor, I have never taken the time to think through the details of this feeling. How might western public opinion have developed, had the Wall remained? How would the world as a whole have been different?

So, I was very interested to learn yesterday about an IEA event, which I have already signed up to attend, to be held at the end of this month:

This month sees the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, ushering in dramatic change across East and West Germany. But even now, East Germany still lags behind the West and the legacy of socialism has been hard to overcome.

So what would have happened if the wall hadn’t come down?

On Thursday 28th November, the IEA is delighted to host an intriguing discussion on that very premise. Professor Syed Kamall will chair the conversation with our own Head of Political Economy Dr. Kristian Niemietz, and historians Roger Moorhouse and Giles Udy.

Rather than just bang on with more guess-answers, I will keep this posting brief and await comments from others.

In particular, are there any ways in which the fall of the Berlin Wall has made the world worse? I’m not talking about how it has embarrassed Communists and (a tribe I particularly despise) anti-anti-Communists … like that’s a bad thing. Those are just two of many features. I’m talking about how life for regular people around the world, and perhaps also in Russia itself, may actually, in some weird knock-on effect ways, have been made worse. I can’t think of any obvious ways that anything like that has happened, but maybe someone else can.

The strange mental softness around the NHS

UK Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson has made much of how he would shower “our wonderful National Health Service” with money (from we lucky taxpayers and future generations, no doubt) in this election campaign. Cynics will say that he probably does not mean it all that much but such statements are the price one must pay for persuading wavering Labour voters into switching from the Red to the Blue team, etc.

But I wonder. There does seem to be a deeply rooted attachment to the NHS that goes beyond all logic and reason. A service created in the late 1940s, run as a monopoly (private healthcare in the UK is relatively small versus the NHS), paid for out of tax and delivered free at the point of use. Result: its services must be rationed. Some of its actions are pretty good, some far less so. I got treated for water on the knee last year and was dealt with reasonably well, although the diagnoses given were so wide and contradictory that in the end I learned more by surfing the internet and talking to some medically savvy friends. Many people’s experiences with NHS treatment vary from excellent to terrible. It does certain things very well, but in my view is poor at area such as tracking patients after their initial encounters to make sure they are keeping on a regime, etc. I think that the UK could and should move towards private healthcare provision for the bulk of the population, via a mix of healthcare accounts that one builds up over time (people will tend to draw from these funds more as they enter middle age), insurance (for large, catastrophic spending) and some public provision for those in serious poverty. The Soviet model that we operate under seems not just anachronistic, but dangerously resistant to innovation and change. (James Bartholomew had good thoughts on the NHS in this article.)

And yet the NHS is, as former UK finance minister Nigel Lawson once said, rather like a state religion, such as the Church of England. Criticise it at one’s peril. The other day on Facebook an acquaintance of mine, a senior nurse on a good salary, bleated about the hours she has to work. I pointed out that as a small business owner I have put in 60-plus hours a week, but accepted that as part of my choice to work in this way. The meltdown, and the sarcasm, that I received from this person’s friends was something to behold.

The NHS is, like the BBC, one of those institutions that seems to defy all logic, no matter what it does and how ropey its output is.

Samizdata quote of the day

But top universities are also crucial for induction into the luxury belief class. Take vocabulary. Your typical middle-class American could not tell you what “heteronormative” or “cisgender” means. But if you visit Harvard, you’ll find plenty of rich 19-year-olds who will eagerly explain them to you. When someone uses the phrase “cultural appropriation,” what they are really saying is “I was educated at a top college.” Consider the Veblen quote, “Refined tastes, manners, habits of life are a useful evidence of gentility, because good breeding requires time, application and expense, and can therefore not be compassed by those whose time and energy are taken up with work.” Only the affluent can afford to learn strange vocabulary because ordinary people have real problems to worry about.

Rob Henderson

The lost chord, correction, TUC booklet

Seated one day at the organ
I was weary and ill at ease
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys

I know not what I was playing
Or what I was dreaming then;
But I struck one chord of music
Like the sound of a great Amen

The Lost Chord was an immensely popular song of the late nineteenth century. It described how the singer had found, then lost, a chord played on the organ that seemed to bring infinite calm.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly
That one lost chord divine
Which came from the soul of the organ
And entered into mine

In like fashion did I, my friends, linger in the library of Her Majesty’s Treasury in my lunchtime many years ago, seeking to put off the moment when I would have to go back to my humble office and do some actual work. Like the fingers of the weary organist upon his instrument, thus did my skiving fingers wander idly across the spines of the publications the Treasury thought might help its minions control public expenditure*. By a chance equally slim did I find the booklet issued by the Trades Union Congress that I am going to talk about in this post. And by a fate equally tragic did I fail to take note of the title, author, year of publication or even the colour of the cover, and lost it again forever.

Which is a bit of a bummer really. This post would have been a lot more convincing if you guys didn’t just have to take my word for it that the damn TUC book ever existed. Then again, it was nice to be reminded of The Lost Chord which was the favourite song of an old chap I once knew who fought in the First World War.

This booklet. For anyone still reading, it was about “Technology in the Workplace” or summat. I got the impression that it had been published in the last years of Callaghan’s government. (This story takes place during Thatcher’s premiership.) It did not bring me infinite calm. It brought me a Hard Stare in the Paddington Bear sense from another patron of the library, because I was going “mwunk” and “pfuffle” from trying not to laugh.

The booklet was all about how when the bosses tried to introduce new technology, workers could use the power that came from being a member of a trade union to block it. It did not go so far as recommending that all new devices such as “word processors” and “computers” should be rejected out of hand, but it made quite clear that no such new-fangled gadgets should be allowed in if it meant the number of jobs for typesetters or stenographers should go down. The power of the unionised worker to resist such impositions was, of course, greatest in our great nationalised industries.

The pages of the little book were clean and perfectly squared off. I do not think anyone other than me had ever read it. Yet it seemed to come from a long-ago time or a foreign country, probably East Germany, so great were the changes that had come to Britain in those few years since it was published.

Yes, Britain changed. And now it’s changing back.

Jeremy Corbyn promises free broadband under Labour.

Labour’s proposal seems very popular, although, hilariously, support drops steeply when the question moves from “Do you like Labour’s plan to give you free stuff?” to “Do you like Labour’s plan to nationalise BT Openreach?” – but even then a solid third of the country hear Jeremy Corbyn say, “we’ll make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in our country”, and also hear that the Labour manifesto is to reiterate the radical 2017 commitment to ‘sector-wide collective bargaining’ – and seriously believe that the “very fastest full-fibre broadband” is going to be brought to them by the unionised workforce of a nationalised industry.

*Or as the Treasury Diary handed out free to staff members one year described it, pubic expenditure.

Samizdata quote of the day

So, for the reader who is not interested in entertaining doubts, what does it take to become an anti-racist? Kendi finishes his book with a bathetic, platitudinous list of must-dos. Here’s one: “Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity.” Here’s another: “Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy.” He never gets more specific. Again, it’s hard not to notice that there is no room for changing minds and hearts in his worldview. The point is to get and use power. You do not vote racist politicians out of office, or persuade others to do so in a liberal democratic process. You “compel” them or “drive them from office” with “antiracist power.” And one is left to wonder what he could possibly mean by that? Kendi is careful not to say the quiet part out loud.

Andrew Sullivan

Climategate ten years on.

Remember “Climategate”? There has been a TV show made about it. Lucy Mangan of the Guardian gives it four stars:

Climategate: Science of a Scandal review – the hack that cursed our planet

In 2009, a vicious attack was launched against groups fighting global warming. Scientists still can’t get over the death threats. And the world is on fire.

I dunno. As I always say whenever I post about these matters, I am willing to believe in global warming caused in significant part by man. But ten years after Climategate cursed the world and set it on fire you would have expected more of a… temperature rise.

Blogging is now so much easier

Artificial intelligence, or at least the kinds of algorithms that are, perhaps erroneously, so named, has many useful applications that will doubtless generate much wealth, freeing us from mundane tasks. As with anything, there are risks. Private criminals will of course find ways to use any technology. But, as a libertarian, I think it is more interesting to consider how it might be used by the state.

It’s not too early to ask whether the US, or the West in general, is at risk of being run by a totalitarian technocracy. Many people are alarmed by the emergence of a Silicon Valley elite that is becoming richer and more powerful than even the great industrial powers of the 20th century. Others believe that, rather than a threat, this kind of tech innovation is an opportunity to create a better world.

I am an optimist about humanity. I believe that technology can be used to create the means of self-organisation and freedom. So why should we care about a new wave of technology that, if used

The first paragraph above was hastily typed by me. The next two paragraphs (ending in a truncated sentence) were generated using Talk to Transformer, a web interface to an instance of OpenAI’s GPT-2 language model. The model you can play with on the web site is larger than the one that was released back in February. It can generate much longer tracts of coherent text, but I think this instance of it is limited to conserve computing resources.

Its output is rather uncanny, but it can follow the style of its input and stay on topic. By trying different opening sentences or paragraphs, I have made it write stories, newspaper articles and Amazon reviews. At times it looks suspiciously like it is copying directly from whatever material it was trained with (presumably text scraped from the web). However I tried Googling some of its output and could not find anything identical. At the very least, details are changed, such as when I gave it the text, “Who do you think you are? Lewis Hamilton?” and it generated a newspaper interview with Nico Rosberg talking about how proud he is to be a female racing driver.

Have fun with it, but do remember to get some work done.

Update: It seems you can ask it questions by prepending your question with “Q:”. For example:

Q: who is Perry de Havilland?

Perry de Havilland was an American aviation pioneer who worked on both aircraft design and aeronautics research. He was instrumental in developing both the Bristol Blenheim and the North American F-86 Sabre jet aircraft.

Galileo in darkness

Kieren McCarthy has written an article for the Register that brings together two themes of interest to many Samizdata readers:

“One man’s mistake, missing backups and complete reboot: The tale of Europe’s Galileo satellites going dark”

In mid-July, the agency in charge of the network of 26 satellites, the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (EGSA), warned of a “service degradation” but assured everyone that it would quickly be resolved.

It wasn’t resolved however, and six days later the system was not only still down but getting increasingly inaccurate, with satellites reporting that they were in completely different positions in orbit than they were supposed to be – a big problem for a system whose entire purpose is to provide state-of-the-art positional accuracy to within 20 centimeters.

Billions of organizations, individuals, phones, apps and so on from across the globe simply stopped listening to Galileo. It’s hard to imagine a bigger mess, aside from the satellites crashing down to Earth.

The article concludes,

In the meantime, a dangerous amount of political maneuvering means all the engineers are keeping their heads down. Which is a shame because by all accounts, there is a lot of good work going on, not helped by organizational silos.

In short, Galileo is a classic European venture: a great idea with talented people that has turned into a bureaucratic mess in which no one wants to take the blame for problems caused by unnecessary organizational complexity.

Why is this not the world’s biggest ongoing news story?

In a cultural genocide with few parallels since World War II, thousands of Muslim religious sites have been destroyed. At least 1 million Muslims have been confined to camps, where aging imams are shackled and young men are forced to renounce their faith. Muslims not locked away are forced to eat during the fasting month of Ramadan, forced to drink and smoke in violation of their faith, barred from praying or studying the Koran or making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Fred Hiatt

I am amazed this is not the biggest ongoing news story on the planet. Yet the silence from the world, particularly the Muslim world, is astonishing. Makes one wonder (as if) what is really behind the unrelenting focus on Israel when China can do this with hardly a murmur.

Samizdata quote of the day

There is no idea so stupid you can’t find a professor who believes it.

– H. L. Mencken

The tour guide

This BBC story by by Steve Rosenberg starts in quite an arresting manner…

Berlin Wall anniversary: The ‘worst night of my life’

It’s one of the most bizarre guided tours I’ve ever been on. I’m driving around Berlin with Egon Krenz – the last communist leader of East Germany.

Thirty years ago today the Berlin Wall came down.

It must be sad for him, no longer being able to rule over Germans as a dictator. Still, at least he still gets to be der Reiseführer.